Beyond inhumanity


Syria’s civil war has produced so many horrors and atrocities over the past four years that each new outrage struggles to gain the attention of a cruelly indifferent outside world.

But the plight of the 18,000 civilians, including 3,500 children, trapped inside the Palestinian refugee camp at Yarmouk, a suburb of Damascus, cries out for urgent international action.

Besieged for two years by forces loyal to Syria's president Bashar al-Assad, during which most of its inhabitants fled, the camp has since last week been almost entirely under the control of the so-called Islamic State (IS). There are reports of dozens of murders of civilians, including some beheadings and those who survive have no food, no water and little medicine to treat the sick and injured. Their situation is, according to Chris Gunness from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa) "beyond inhumane".

Once a thriving suburb with a population of 160,000 people, Yarmouk faces attack from the ground by the jihadist IS and the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra.

Syrian government forces are bombarding the camp from the air with barrel bombs that are notoriously indiscriminate in their victims. Over the past two years, government shelling has killed hundreds of Yarmouk’s inhabitants, a mixture of Palestinians and Syrians, and the IS takeover of the camp has provoked an intensified aerial bombardment. The most urgent priority now is to establish a safe corridor through which civilians can be evacuated from Yarmouk and aid can come in to those too ill to leave.

It is the government of Mr Assad and the armed jihadists who oppose him who bear direct responsibility for the suffering of the people of Yarmouk. Syria's neighbours in the Middle East who are arming and funding various factions share some responsibility, however, along with the western powers and Russia, who have all but abandoned serious efforts to broker a peaceful resolution to the civil war.

Russia is hosting talks in Moscow this week, involving the Syrian government and some rival groups but the main, western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, is boycotting the conference. The group says it will only take part in talks if they lead to Mr Assad, who is an ally of both Russia and Iran, stepping down.

The western powers' demand that Mr Assad should not be allowed to be part of any transitional governing body following a peace deal helped to scupper peace talks in Geneva last year. The Syrian opposition's hunger to see the back of Mr Assad and his bloodthirsty regime is understandable but now that the US is in a tacit alliance with Syria in fighting IS and with a new relationship with Iran in the offing, it is time for fresh thinking in pursuit of peace. The beleaguered people of Yarmouk deserve no less.